Friday, June 09, 2006


It’s getting a little easier. Deleting is. Deleting words that are already written has always been a difficult task. It’s as though they somehow represent something greater – they almost become alive. Yet, they are just words. Profound, gibberish or somewhere in between they don’t mean anything unless they’re read, and those just deleted never will be. The context can’t be recreated, even if remembered verbatim. Although the words can be reconstituted, what they were born of is gone.

Inspiration is a fickle thing. It comes and goes and when it goes, it’s gone. Forever. Sure, similar thoughts and words may be born of similar circumstances, but the ones deleted are gone for good. For good? Yes. That could be how it should be viewed. Not all things are meant to be. Even the thoughts represented by these words and the motivation they were born of could be better served by different words and more pronounced experience.

Modern technology makes this process, at least in the physical sense, much easier, perhaps even cleaner – more sterile. In the not too distant past, before the days of computers and word processors, a machine called a typewriter was the wordsmith’s weapon of choice. The most modern were electric and they were able to “delete” some of what had been written via a ”correction” feature, but any wholesale deletions still involved yanking the paper from the platen, crumpling it up and tossing it into an overflowing basket of prior “deletions.”

This historic vision of the frustrated writer no longer applies. The yanking, crumpling and tossing have been replaced with the stoke of a mouse and touch of a button; the waste paper basket replaced with an icon on a computer screen. No muss, no fuss. With a couple of mouse clicks, the garbage is disposed of permanently, in a very eco-friendly manner. The frustration, however, remains.

It takes practice to delete. It doesn’t get easier per se, just more familiar. It is a necessary evil. As difficult as it is to turn back when realizing the direction chosen leads nowhere, so too is eliminating from existence words already composed. But like hitting any dead-end, backtracking – or deletion – is part of the progression. Sometimes knowing the wrong direction is part of knowing the right one; knowing where to go might mean knowing where not to.

And the basket fills; it is overflowing with deleted work. Wasted effort? Not even remotely. It is part of the experience, an integral part of the creative process. It is separating the wheat from the chaff. And today, the ease of deletion in some respects makes it that much harder. The time and effort to create can be erased so completely and effortlessly that it’s value feels somehow diminished. No paper, no ink, no evidence of ever existing remains. The memory lives in the words that survive, each of them rising from the ashes of their deleted brethren.


Anonymous said...

You said "Inspiration is a fickle thing. It comes and goes and when it goes, it’s gone."

That is so true. I try to keep paper with me at all times but its kind of hard to write a thought while driving or engaged in other activities that require attention. I hate it when I lose my thoughts and they never come back the same way again.

Congrats on overcoming some of the deleting issues...a new freedom.

You Rock!

Sadie Lou said...

How strange. The reason I don't like writing on the computer is because I find that I need to have those scribbled out words to remind me where I have already been.
I could never write a story online--never....

mckay said...

i wrote you a very profound comment, but i deleted it.

Anonymous said...

mike I enjoy reading your website because the choie of words you use are inspiring. Keep it up and I'll keep coming back. I't brings me hope. Janie

Snaggle Tooth said...

So tough to delete the dear little word-children!

If I feel the words may deserve to live on for another piece, I just "save as" then delete n revise.
But ya wouldn't wanna search the stacks of text files stored in "clean" C:/drive here... I know I wrote that thing somewhere...

I don't miss the old Smith-Corona (it's still in the back-room just in case) This is SOOoooo much easier!

Ellen said...

Ah yes, I so love the feature of delete on the computer.
I am from the old school, where we learned to type on manual typewriters. Any and all mistakes, (and there were many) required a process of aligning a strip between the paper and typewriter ribbon and going over it again with the same letters so that it would "white" it out. They didn't come out with actual White-Out in a bottle till far after I had graduated from high school.
When I fisrt started using a computer, that whole process was eliminated... and editing was a breeze.

Most times I will continue to type on no matter what I have to say (just not to lose the thought), then come back to clean it up in the editing stage. And most times, I find that there are things I really should delete out, as they make not make any sense to the story I was putting across. Or better yet, I save it because I may have traveled far from the story... but the words deserved a life of their own in another rant.

Helene said...

Hummm... I am wondering what is behind this issue of deleting...

I have deleted 2 other blogs (one of them I deleted then reopened. It was tough initially but once done, It was remarkably freeing. Somehow I found that to have gotten rid of those words left room for me to rework my thoughts.

I like online writing because it keeps up with my usually random mind (can you develop ADD as an adult? lol) I have learned to type fast and go back for editing later. I am lazy so the spell check option is what keeps me going some days! lol Talk about getting inspiration where you

X said...

When I'm working on a story I find it hard to delete things because I don't know if the sentence was a sheer moment of brilliance or a horrible lack of judgement on my part.

As for saved work, I'm a writing pack-rat. Although I know stuff I produce now will be far better than things I wrote, let's say, in university, I still keep all of that stuff. LOL, I should clean out my folders :)

Michael K. Althouse said...

barb ~ so do you... BTW: I'm reading your story - I haven't forgotten about you!

sadie lou ~ my hand writing is so bad, often I can't read it myself. Besides, I tend to stick with my first drafts, so I'd rather not transpose it later.

mck ~ LOL - I can only imagine!

janie ~ thanks, I'm glad it helps!

snags ~ I know what you mean. I used to save everything. I have draft upon draft saved as rev 1, rev 2, etc with only a word or two changed, When I go back to find them, I never get the revision I'm looking for. Now, if it's on my blog, it's the final final, ta know?

ellen ~ I never took typing in high school, most guys didn't but I wish I did. Computers for word processing were still a few years off. I remember the correction ribbon!

kate ~ in addition to having horrible hand writing, I'm also a terrible speller - thank God (or whoever!) for the modern conveniences!

oilf ~ I start a news writing internship next week, we'll see how much the delete key gets used then!

ss rs ~ um... ya, I guess. BTW, welcome to my blog, I see you had occasion to come back and i do appreciate it. You said:

I think I'm missing something though.

I can relate - I'm still trying to figure this whole gig out.